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Can't Afford SEO? Can't Afford NOT to SEO!

One of the questions that I keep hearing from small business owners every year is this: How can a small business like me afford SEO/SEM? It’s a fair question coming from budget-conscious business owners. Not everybody can afford SEO. But, nobody can afford NOT to SEO.

We recently had a “small” business come to us for a proposal. We talked at length about their needs, concerns, and budget for SEO, PPC, and Social Media campaigns. We found out that they were spending over $1.5M a year on phone book advertising. For a lot of small businesses, this is an incredible sum of money.

As we developed their proposal, this company became concerned about the PPC budget we had recommended, which was well under 10% of their phone book ad spend. When they asked, “How do small businesses afford SEM?” I initially dodged the question. Every small business is different, but if you can spend $1M on phone book advertising that is completely un-tracked, you can certainly siphon money out of that to invest in SEO and PPC which is trackable. Especially PPC, which can be tracked down to the nth degree.

Understandably, this client doesn’t want to pull all of their phone book ads. I get that. Even if you don’t know whether it is working or not, you know you’ve been successful. The last thing you want to do is yank marketing that could be responsible for your success. (Just the fact that this is an unknown, yet so much is invested in it boggles my mind!)

I understand the slow migration philosophy… cut it, but don’t eliminate it. Take money out of that and invest in something new. That “something new” must prove to be successful, both on it’s own and as part of the bigger picture.

For instance, the PPC may bring them a positive ROI, but they may find that they lost money overall by taking it away from the phone book ads. I know, I chuckled too when I wrote that, but lets just consider it a “possibility”. If that were to happen, then we know that money needs to be re-invested back into the phone book. But, that also means new money needs to be invested in PPC.

Why? Because the PPC is profitable. Any marketing that is profitable is smart marketing. If you gave me a dollar and you knew, through proven historical metrics and tracking, that it would return $5, would you walk away because you didn’t have a dollar? Not me. I’d go diving under the sofa cushions to get whatever change I could find. As soon as I rummaged up a dollar, I’d invest it, take the $5 I earned, return the $1 back to the couch (thanks, Mr. Sofa!), and re-invest the remaining $4, eagerly awaiting my $20.

That’s the beauty of any marketing that is trackable. Once you know that every dollar you spend returns a profit, you’re a bit foolish not to continue to invest money in that marketing avenue. Eventually there is a tipping point, but again, good tracking has your back on that.

Some businesses understand the value of SEO. They have invested their entire marketing budget on SEO/SEM because they know that’s where the money is. I have clients that came to us years ago when they were still publishing catalogs or traveling in RVs to peddle their wares. The economics of those old school marketing efforts worked, but clearly not as profitable as the online marketing efforts.

But, unless those efforts are proven money losers, I say keep doing them. Profit is profit, no matter where it comes from. Of course, this is only valuable once you’ve hit your profit tipping points in the other areas. As long as there is room to invest more in your highest ROI marketing avenues, keep investing!

Unfortunately, for the REALLY small businesses that are just starting out and don’t have a significant budget to work with, SEO can be an expensive foray. This is the case of finding a way to invest the little you have and turn it into a little more, and then turn that into a lot more.

I don’t envy the small business in that position, but that doesn’t make SEO/SEM any less important. You may not be able to invest thousands of dollars a month in SEO or PPC or Social Media. Heck, you may not even find a qualified SEO provider that will take on your account for the budget you offer.

But, you still cannot afford NOT to SEO!

Fortunately, there are plenty of self-help SEO tutorials out there, as well as consultants that can answer your questions on an hour by hour basis. Your options may be limited, but you still have them. It’s just a matter of finding out how best to invest what you have, so you can get some return and grow your pot of SEO gold.

Stoney G deGeyter

Stoney deGeyter is the author of The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!. He is the founder and CEO of Pole Position Marketing, a web presence optimization firm whose pit crew has been velocitizing websites since 1998. In his free time Stoney gets involved in community services and ministries with his “bride enjoy” and his children. Read Stoney’s full bio.

One Response to Can't Afford SEO? Can't Afford NOT to SEO!

  1. Amber says:

    Great article and so true. I’m an intern and new to the world of seo, but there are a lot of way to implement small changes that can make a huge difference! If you can’t afford to put a lot of money into SEO, a company should plan of spending the time to go out on the internet and learn about it and implement it themselves. My generation of buyers don’t generally run to the phone book for their information, they run to their computers to google it. I mean come on google is a verb now! I understand that phone books are often a necessary evil, but I am sold on seo. Seo is vital to the success of any business.